Taking the Leap from Mass to Class

Taking the Leap from Mass to Class

Luis Raifer, Schreckbichl winery: initiator of the quality offensive

Founded in 1960, the Schreckbichl winery is considered one of the youngest cooperative wineries in Alto Adige – and one of the most influential ones when it comes to the leap in quality envisioned for Alto Adige wines in the 1980s. That is not least thanks to Luis Raifer: for almost 30 years, he had been at the helm of the Schreckbichl winery, thus also spearheading the Alto Adige quality offensive.

Luis Raifer, an agronomist, was managing his parents’ vineyard himself when he took over the reins at the Schreckbichl winery as executive chairman. He was therefore familiar with the theoretical and the practical background and just as knowledgeable in the latest scientific findings as in the obstacles that must be overcome when putting them into practice.

An adverse factor was the fact that Raifer’s tenure started with a substantial deficit. The reputation of Alto Adige as a wine country back then – if it had any reputation to begin with – was ambiguous at best. At any rate, it was not the kind of reputation that would lend itself to the long-term economic survival of the wine growers and wineries. Luis Raifer was very well aware of that when he took over the reins – and proceeded to change tack, timely and radically. “In the early 1980s, it was important for us to usher in a new era,” says Raifer.

In plain terms, this means: consistent quality assurance measures had to be introduced in every part of the business. For the wine-growing business, that meant a massive reduction of yield and the driving of sustainable economic activity. In the cellars, the work had to improve in terms of quality, but above all in terms of care and circumspection. And in sales, communication and marketing began to matter more and more. “That way, we managed to work our way up from a mass wine-growing region to a premium region in the relatively short span of just 30 or 35 years,” recalls Luis Raifer with regard to Alto Adige.

What made this possible was, on the one hand, a consistent commitment to quality, and on the other hand, everything which nature is providing to the wine country of Alto Adige. “Wine growing in Alto Adige benefits greatly from the Alpine-Mediterranean climate,” says the seasoned executive chairman of the Schreckbichl winery. “That is why we have such a great variety of wines and styles.”

Additional factors include sufficient precipitation, lots and lots of sunshine, and great differences in temperature between day and night. “All of that supports grape quality and helps form the flavors.” But in spite of all those natural advantages, wine growing in Alto Adige is still backbreaking work. There is only so much that machines can do, but more often than not, manual labor is in order. “Wine growing,” says Luis Raifer, “is like a long-distance run.” One where every small detail matters.

However: as the boss of the Schreckbichl winery, Luis Raifer never wanted to impose those details on the 300 members of his cooperative. Instead, he settled for establishing a framework which ensured the quality standards of the cooperative winery while at the same time granting the wine growers a high degree of independence. In that regard, Mr. Raifer is a comrade through and through: “This community is the idea at the heart of a cooperative,” he says. “And community is important for the quality of the wines at the Schreckbichl winery.”

Nothing more, but nothing less than that, either.
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